I suspect I’m not alone in having a more than the usual hard time of ‘getting into the ‘Christmas spirit’ this year. The misery of the estimated 59 million refugees and displaced persons fleeing wars, failed states and Climate Change is always at the back of my mind. I can’t do much about them, but as an immigrant and someone who was kicked out of her home at age five by the American occupiers in Germany, I have some small idea of how they feel. I know that nothing is worse than losing your home and nothing is harder than trying to adapt to a different culture. Even my families’ usual semi-pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice isn’t getting me going. Somehow, writing that I want the wars in Syria/Afghanistan/etc to stop, and then burning the offending piece of paper isn’t cutting it anymore.
I am Canadian now, and just how thoroughly I have become one was driven home during a recent visit to the pressure cooker of Germany, where I was born and spent the first twelve years of my life. The Germans are struggling to deal with an influx of millions of desperate people, and while Angela Merkel has the moral high ground on the refugee crisis, she is apparently leaving the logistics of housing and feeding them to overwhelmed local officials. This will eventually cause her to lose her job as chancellor, but meanwhile, the local officials are doing things that will, inevitably, lead to a serious backlash among even well intentioned Germans. I think my extended family, consisting of highly educated professionals, might be among them.
For an example of officials doing dumb things, consider the closing of public institutions like the local Music Academy, firing the employees, and then using the space for a few Syrian families with nowhere else to go. This actually happened in a small town in northern Germany called Wolfenbuettel. It is not an isolated incident. My uncle, who happens to be a well known academic, told me this story. He sounded extremely upset and fears that the rather large villa in which he lives with his wife and a spoiled poodle, will be requisitioned. He is clearly reliving the worst days of the war, when our home was, in fact, requisitioned to house refugees from East Prussia, fleeing the Russian army.
I can relate to his fears, but my sympathies are divided because I cannot blame the refugees nor can I fear them. What I fear is the backlash. I wish I could do something to allay my relatives’ fears re angry looking young Muslim men. I can tell them that we here in Canada are doing a better job of organizing the crisis. That we are handling this because we are an immigrant nation, and that they have to get used to being one as well. But I wonder how we would deal with the crisis if we had no way of stopping the influx. Would we do any better than the Germans? Would our much celebrated ‘Christmas Spirit’ of giving, of love and good will last? And will it?
All I can do is hope and have faith in our humanity.